Parliament has failed in the past two years  to give all necessary support to Suhakam to protect and promote human rights as by having special debates on Suhakam reports and establishing  Parliamentary Standing  Committee on Human Rights to scrutinise Suhakam recommendations

DAP forum on Parliamentary Reforms 

by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Tuesday):  Suhakam is facing a national crisis of confidence in two short years, as illustrated by the 100-day boycott or ďdisengagementĒ by 32 NGOs, to protest the  governmentís poor response to Suhakamís numerous recommendations, the latest appointments to Suhakam and Suhakamís own failings.  

There is another cause  for the Suhakam crisis of confidence.  Parliament has failed in the past two years  to give all necessary support to Suhakam to protect and promote human rights as by having special debates on Suhakam reports and establishing a  Parliamentary Standing  Committee on Human Rights to scrutinise Suhakam recommendations so as to give back-up to Suhakam in its discharge of its champion human rights in the country. 

Parliament passed the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 which stipulated that Suhakam must present an annual report to Parliament of all its activities as well as table special reports to Parliament whenever it considers necessary ďin respect of any particular matter or matters referred to it, and the action taken in respect thereofĒ. (Section 21).  

In placing on Suhakam a statutory duty to present an annual report and other special reports to Parliament, MPs have the  reciprocal obligation to diligently monitor and examine Suhakamís reports and consider its recommendations to judge as to whether Suhakam has fulfilled its two-point objective to check human rights abuses and to promote human rights awareness as advising and assisting the government to uphold human rights in its actions and to recommend to the government the ratification of international instruments in the field of human rights. 

Unfortunately, Parliament had been completely remiss in its duties in the past two years  as it had virtually thrown the first Suhakam annual report 2000 and the Suhakam report on Freedom of Assembly into the parliamentary waste-paper basket, by not giving them any attention or consideration, when Parliament  should have held  special debates and established an all-party Parliametnary Standing Committee to specifically scrutinise Suhakam reports.  

In disregarding the Suhakam reports, Parliament had helped to denigrate and degrade the status of Suhakam when  it should be doing all it could to enhance Suhakamís standing and prestige as  Suhakam was  established by Parliament by a special legislation in 1999.  

Suhakam had not submitted its report on the Kesas Highway Inquiry which was made public last August, but there was no interest or concern in Parliament.  In fact, Suhakam has contravened its parent Act which requires it to submit its annual report 2001 to the last meeting of Parliament, but no MP seems to be bothered.  

The Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar had hijacked the Suhakam annual report 2001 on the ground that Suhakamís report to Parliament must be submitted to him first as he was the Minister assigned to be responsible for Suhakam. 

This is the latest example of Executive  subversion of the principle and process of parliamentary democracy, depriving Parliament the right to unhindered and  uncensored report from Suhakam as provided by law.    

What Hamid had done is most illegal, unparliamentary and runs counter to the whole spirit of an independent Human Rights Commission, as Parliament never gave the Foreign Minister the power to vet or censor Suhakam reports before they are submitted to Parliament. 

Hamid may be the Minister assigned the  responsibility  in government  for the portfolios of  human rights and Suhakam, but this does not make him the overlord of Suhakam or make  Suhakam responsible, answerable or subservient to the Foreign Minister - which is  an illegal Executive usurpation  of the statutory powers and functions Suhakam.   

Hamid should respect both the spirit and words of the Suhakam Act which intends Suhakam to be completely independent of the Executive, and withdraw the clutches of control which the Foreign Ministry had exercised over Suhakam.

The 1999 general election saw one of the election of the biggest number of opposition MPs  in Malaysian electoral history - a total of 45 MPs from PAS, DAP, KeAdilan and PBS (which, together with its three MPs,  recently leapfrogged back to Barisan Nasional) - which was 20 short of the magic figure of  65 needed  to deny the Barisan Nasional its unbroken  two-thirds parliamentary majority as compared to 31Opposition seats  in the 1995 general election.  

In the past 30 months however, such influx of Opposition MPs into Parliament in the nationís history  has not  arrested the relentless process of undemocratic encroachments by  the Prime Minister and the Executive into the powers and provinces of Parliament, which had started since Merdeka in 1957 but reached its most serious stage in the two-decade administration of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.   

In fact, Parliament had never been treated with more contempt by the Executive and been  more impotent and ineffective  to discharge its  trinity of parliamentary functions - to legislate, to deliberate and to hold  the government to account - than in the past 30 months.  

The first act of the 10th Parliament after the November 1999 general election was to be a party to the statutory rape of the Constitution, where the Executive showed utter contempt to both Parliament and the Constitution by unconstitutionally summoning the meeting of Parliament without the proper authority of the Yang di Pertuan Agong before the formation of the new Cabinet - as required by the Constitution.  

The tyranny  of the Barisan Nasional majority in Parliament in arbitrarily suspending the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Poh Kuan, for six months without allowance for trying to raise in Parliament the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) examinations scandal is further proof of the need for far-reaching parliamentary reforms to make  the Malaysian Parliament a more representative, democratic and effective institution to fulfil the  aspirations of ordinary Malaysians.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman